Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients

contaminated supplements

The supplement industry is huge and unregulated. Americans spend more than $30 billion annually on them, yet contaminated supplements are part of the industry’s method to make their mostly useless products appear to have some clinical effect.

There is growing evidence that these contaminated supplements contain unlabeled ingredients that are found in regulated pharmaceuticals – all without telling the consumer about them. Or testing them. Or listing warnings for their use.

As I’ve written many times, supplements are basically worthless, unless you have specific chronic medical conditions or suffer from chronic malnutrition that prevents you from receiving enough micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals. In addition, those on highly restrictive diets, like vegans or those who have had weight-loss surgery, may require supplementation, although both could be considered “chronic medical conditions.”

For example, in modern prenatal care, the pregnant mother is urged to take folic acid supplements to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. But after the pregnancy is over, folic acid is no longer needed – in fact, continued use of folic acid may actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer, in individuals who have no medical need for the supplement.

Because a lot of people favor confirmation bias as their go-to argument, I constantly hear, “hey Skeptical Raptor, vitamin C prevents scurvy, ergo all supplements are the greatest thing we can consume.” Scurvy is fairly rare these days in developed countries, but it can happen especially to smokers since cigarette smoke inhibits uptake of vitamin C (and another reason not to smoke).

So unless your diet only includes steak, ice cream, and junk food, an average American or European will get more than adequate amounts of vitamin C from their diet. Anyone deficient in vitamin C could be considered to be malnourished, and, of course, they will benefit from a vitamin C supplement. But vitamin C does not prevent colds, flu, or cancer. It is not a miracle vitamin, despite the oft-debunked claims of the pseudoscience-based supplement proponents.

Despite the utter lack of or weak evidence of the usefulness of supplements, unsurprisingly, over half of all Americans take dietary supplements. I guess chronic malnutrition and medical conditions afflict over half of Americans. The facts are that human needs for nutrients, like vitamins, are more than adequately met by a broad, healthy diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables.

But there’s more bad news, and it’s more than just overpriced, mostly useless products. It’s that contaminated supplements are widespread in this industry.  Continue reading “Contaminated supplements – spiked with potentially dangerous ingredients”

Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work

supplements for cardiovascular diseases

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long time – not because I have some predisposition against them. My skepticism results from the relative lack of any robust evidence that supplements have any positive effect on human health other than in unique situations of chronic diseases or malnutrition. In fact, most of the high-quality evidence about supplements show that it does not work. And a recently published review shows that using supplements for cardiovascular diseases are expensive and useless.

Since many readers fail to read what I wrote above, let me repeat myself for clarity. Supplements are not completely useless – of course, they are important for those who have chronic diseases or conditions may require supplements of some or many micronutrients. Someone who has had bariatric surgery or other types of serious gastrointestinal surgery may not be able to consume enough vitamins and minerals from food, and they will require multivitamins.

Also, some individuals may be malnourished, which doesn’t mean just not eating enough, but not eating some foods that have specific nutrients. For example, avoiding certain foods that contain vitamin C could put you at risk for a disease called scurvy, which can be deadly. There are several other diseases that result from missing key nutrients. However, in the modern developed world, these diseases are extremely rare because of the varied diet we have – and the availability of supplements to treat those diseases.

However, several points have got to be made. Just because vitamin C can treat scurvy doesn’t mean that more vitamin C makes your immune system suddenly powerful enough to destroy the common cold or flu or cure cancer. Vitamin D, although there are many cases of deficiency in many countries, is not a miracle supplement. It cannot cure or prevent cancer. It does not impart superpower abilities to your immune system.

The whole supplement industry has an overreliance on logical fallacies (like appeal to popular belief or appeal antiquity) or anecdotes (which aren’t data) to convince customers to buy their nonsense. They do this because they are not required to undergo gold-standard clinical trials to convince the FDA to approve their claims. Real pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, take 10-20 years of research and clinical trials before they are approved for use.

Big Supplement (yeah, it’s a huge industry, over US$100 billion annually, worldwide) also pushes the trope that if a little helps, a lot is better. This is not good science. The millions of years of human evolution (following up a billion years of immune system evolution) has led to a rather powerful immune system that is exceedingly complex and has always been able to do its job without the addition of supplements (unless early Homo sapiens had access to a GNC someplace).

But let’s take a look at supplements for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular conditions) – a new review shows us, once again, that there’s nothing there. Continue reading “Supplements for cardiovascular diseases – more evidence that they don’t work”

Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality

omega-3 supplements

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. Supplements are generally of low quality, they don’t prevent or cure cancer, they don’t prevent colds, they can’t boost the immune system, and they don’t prevent heart disease. Now there is a powerful review of omega-3 supplements that shows that it has little effect on cardiovascular disease.

Unless one has a chronic disease or is chronically malnourished, there are precious few instances where supplements are necessary. A couple of cases where supplements may be critical include prenatal folic acid supplements to prevent neurological defects in the developing fetus, vitamin C to prevent scurvy, and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. In each of these cases, however, supplements are necessary to counteract a micronutrient deficiency that results from a chronic deficiency in the diet.

The benefits of omega-3 supplements have always been intriguing to me because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful for improving cardiovascular health. But as I reviewed before, the evidence seemed awfully weak. With this new study, there may be no evidence whatsoever supporting the use of omega-3 supplements, at least for cardiovascular disease. Continue reading “Omega-3 supplements have little effect on cardiovascular disease and mortality”

Dietary supplements make costly urine – not helpful for CVD

dietary supplements

I have never been a fan of dietary supplements pushed by Big Supplement, the less regulated, less evidence-based, more pseudoscientific mirror image of Big Pharma. Recently, a meta-review published in a respected journal examined whether there were any causal links between various dietary supplements and cardiovascular disease (CVD). They only found one, folic acid, that might have an effect on CVD, but, in that case, causality might not be so clear.

Just to be perfectly clear, no one on the side of real science-based medicine would dismiss using dietary supplements to treat chronic medical conditions. Many people have had surgeries, illnesses, and other medical conditions where certain supplements are necessary for the patient to survive. But these are highly specific requirements, not general quack claims that taking supplements will somehow miraculously treat colds and flues, prevent cancer, or some other nonsense.

Essentially, if you’re taking dietary supplements for no medical reason other than you believe it makes you healthier, let’s stick to facts – all that you are doing is having your kidneys create some very costly urine. Human physiology, based on a couple of billion years of evolution, automatically regulates its needs for micronutrients – excess amounts do not stick around to make you healthier, it just becomes a component of your pee.

It’s time to take a look at this article about dietary supplements and cardiovascular disease. Maybe I’ll convince you to save some money each month, and spend it on something like investing in a better diet. Continue reading “Dietary supplements make costly urine – not helpful for CVD”

How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important

how to prevent cancer

I have railed against pseudoscientific charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks or keep them from even growing in your body. Of course, none of their claims are actually supported by robust science. On the other hand, real science has 12 evidence-based methods to actually prevent cancer.

But what about those memes that say that supplements prevent cancer? Nope, they don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).

What about avoiding GMO foods because they cause cancer? Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing – bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are only a few things that can be done to manage your overall risk of cancer.

How to prevent cancer has been codified by the World Health Organization’s  (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that are called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s look at cancer and how to prevent cancer.

Continue reading “How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps – vaccines are critically important”

Cinnamon for diabetes – myth or science?

cinnamon for diabetes

People frequently want the easy way to correct their health issues. They want to imbue a magical quality to “natural” products to make themselves healthier. They don’t want to take one of those evil Big Pharma drugs. For example, over the past few years, Big Supplement has pushed a belief that cinnamon for diabetes is a great treatment.

But really, do these supplements actually do all that much? Well, the real scientific evidence gives little support to the health benefits of these various supplements. I’ve probably written over 50 articles on supplements, and maybe one supplement has any value in health.

Look at cancer prevention. There really are only a handful of ways to prevent cancer, and none of them include megadoses (or even single doses) of supplements.

We probably see a million advertisements for supplements and “natural” foods that make you thinner, healthier, smarter, stronger, better. Of course, if even 1% of the claims (or outright fabrications) made by these hawkers were supported by real science, we could close down Big Pharma and all those physicians hawking those evil drugs that aren’t necessary.

Except, we know that’s not true. And it’s time to look at the claims of cinnamon for diabetes – what is the real science.

Continue reading “Cinnamon for diabetes – myth or science?”

Prenatal vitamins during pregnancy reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders

prenatal vitamins

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m not exactly a fan of vitamin supplements. They are expensive, and they don’t do what people want to believe they do. They do not reduce the risk of any cancer. They do not improve bone health. But I always forget to mention an important exception – prenatal vitamins and supplements that are well known to improve pregnancy outcomes.

And now it’s time for me correct this egregious oversight on the part of the feathered dinosaur’s body of work on supplements. Just to be clear, I always state an important caveat on my dismissing the usefulness of vitamins and supplements – those individuals with chronic disease or malnutrition may require supplements. For example, if you never touch a fruit or vegetable, you will probably need vitamin C to prevent scurvy. No, I didn’t say that vitamin C will prevent cancer, but it will prevent one disease.

Recently, a top peer-reviewed journal has published an article where the researchers showed that there was a lower risk of autism spectrum disorders in children of mothers who took prenatal vitamins. And I can write about one area of healthcare where some vitamins and supplements do have some value. This is more evidence that there are numerous issues that may lead to autism spectrum disorders – and it’s not vaccines. Continue reading “Prenatal vitamins during pregnancy reduce the risk of autism spectrum disorders”

Common cold treatments – what works, what is just plain nonsense

common cold treatments

It’s that time of year when dozens of common cold treatments are all over the place. On TV advertisements. On displays in your pharmacy. Once again, it’s time to take a look at these lotions and potions to determine which work and which are complete pseudoscientific nonsense.

There are literally a dozen or more homeopathic, herbal, and other unproven concoctions to prevent or treat the common cold, caused by rhinovirus. These common cold treatments are a significant part of the estimated global US$278 billion supplement and nutraceutical industry.

These alternative medicine – so named because there is no scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, let alone safety – products make claims that are so wonderful, many people take them. Then they themselves tell their friends how fast they got rid of their cold. Or that their cold wasn’t as bad after taking the supplement.

Essentially, the whole industry is mostly based on anecdotes, untested claims and the placebo effect. Colds are self-limiting infections, meaning an infection generally lasts some random amount of time, with most people recovering within 7-10 days.

We’re going to review some of the most well-known common cold treatments (there isn’t enough time to review them all), along with what real science says about them in high quality systematic reviews in peer-reviewed, high impact medical journals. This article will review all of the common cold treatments that seem to be out there. Spoiler alert – most don’t work.

One major problem is that the determination of the length and severity of the course of the common cold is entirely subjective. Since the disease is rather mild with few serious complications, it’s hard to determine when it exactly stopped and started, and how bad it was. So, positive results, if they exist, should be treated with a high degree of skepticism. Continue reading “Common cold treatments – what works, what is just plain nonsense”

Vitamin C and cancer – scientific evidence says not much there

vitamin c and cancer

One of the frequently made claims from the alternative medicine world is that vitamin C prevents cancer. Or cures cancer. Or does something with cancer. But what is the science behind vitamin C and cancer?

Of course, there are over 200-250 different cancers, each with a different etiology, pathophysiology and prognosis, so it’s rather incredible to believe that vitamin C has that much effect on any of those cancers. But the claims, and its adherents, persist despite the lack of robust evidence supporting these claims.

Frankly, there are just a handful of ways to prevent cancer. One of those ways, eat a balanced diet, implies consuming appropriate amounts of nutrients, like vitamin C I suppose. But does it mean that taking a handful of vitamin C tablets has some beneficial effect on cancer prevention or treatment? Well, let’s take a look. Continue reading “Vitamin C and cancer – scientific evidence says not much there”

Big supplement profits – making boatloads of money in the name of pseudoscience

big supplement

As a vaccine supporter, I get accused of being a shill for Big Pharma all the time. My basement is filled with gold bars shipped to me in remuneration for my services to the corporate hooligans – wait. No basement, no gold bars. On the other hand, Big Supplement, those companies who make money off of people who think that if they take this one vitamin to prevent all cancer, makes a a ton of money selling this junk medicine to unwary and unsophisticated consumers.

Let’s take a moment and look at the differences between Big Pharma and Big Supplement. The former has to work hard and provide evidence of what its drugs do, while the latter basically can sit around and throw darts at various claims, then randomly assign those claims to some new or old supplement.


Continue reading “Big supplement profits – making boatloads of money in the name of pseudoscience”